Ade Holder, Current Issues, Garden Design, Gardening, Planting, Plants

Rain gardens

A rain garden in its simplest form stands as “a shallow depression, with absorbent yet, free draining soil and planted with vegetation that can withstand occasional temporary flooding”. Such gardens can be a very effective -a small scale community-led step towards preventing risks of flooding within homes and residential areas. A guide to rain gardens has been provided by raingardens.info for those interested in installing a rain garden within their property, together with further information on the benefits and effects of installing one. There are however much larger rain gardens being implemented in many urban and communal spaces.

The plants on the surface of the gardens act not only as an aesthetically pleasing aspect to the design, but as a natural flood defence to which water may infiltrate – slowing the rate of surface water build up on the roads. Beneath the surface of the gardens a water tank is fitted, which is backed up by an additional overflow pipe connecting it directly to the sewer or run off system.

These innovative garden designs have become ever more popular in recent years, as urbanisation continues to diminish our natural green spaces. This year’s Chelsea Flower Show also saw its first rain garden – designed by Dr Nigel Dunnett. His garden, named the ‘New Wild Garden’ is now situated in Gloucestershire. Here the idea of building a rain garden was promoted because not only could it primarily prevent flooding, but also allow wildlife to thrive as well as keeping plants hydrated without the need for watering as often – ideal for gardeners who prefer a low maintenance approach. Rain gardens can additionally be both inexpensive and sustainable, with Dunnett’s garden being built with emphasis on just this. According to The Guardian “many of the hard materials used to make the New Wild Garden were gathered from skips and charity shops. Insect habitats were made using old water pipes, bits of bark, drilled wood and the cross section of an ivy stem taken off a house. Dry-stone walls feature old books and toy cars, while the granite used to make the path was salvaged from outside the Natural History Museum”. Dunnett has even produced a book with Andy Clayden about rain gardens and their sustainability.

As highlighted by Dunnett’s rain garden, alongside many others, the concept itself invites innovation and creativity while remaining entirely flexible in fitting to its surrounding environment. Simple provisions still need to be considered however, such as ensuring the garden isn’t situated on too steep a slope or close to building foundations– as these factors can lessen the garden’s permeability.

Rain garden planting

Further note can be taken from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who have put together a webpage on which plants are native to, and thrive most, in each American state. This allows for gardeners to adapt to their local environments in ensuring that the plants they stock their gardens with conserve water at a level in sympathy with the shortages in the area. For instance the use of drought tolerant crops are encouraged in various states such as Arizona. When putting together a rain garden in the UK, it is important to stock it with plants native to the area, which can tolerate as much surface water as possible in order to resist flooding rather than drought. The Royal Horticultural Society have similarly put together a webpage on trees and shrubs that are native to the UK, which can be useful in considering the practical design for a rain garden.

Kent County Council will soon be implementing the very first series of seventeen ‘rain gardens’ in Folkestone, in order to combat flooding. Flooding in this area has proved hazardous in the past, where both roads, houses and businesses are vulnerable.

According to Kent County Council “this inventive initiative will increase the amount of water captured on Dolphins Road and provide storage below the rain gardens that then control the rate that water flows into the sewer. The tank lets the water out into the sewer at a much slower rate than conventional highway gullies and so won’t overwhelm the network.”

Folkestone

Southern Water has also become involved in the initiative, partnering with Kent County Council on researching further options to reduce flooding risks across the area, possibly through the installation of additional water storage facilities. However, while the implementation of these particular gardens remains more complex and high-tech, the concept of rain gardens isn’t entirely new and a return to more traditional flood control methods is becoming more common.

Flooding is becoming more and more of an issue in many parts of the UK and the world. British companies like UNDA provide an ever increasing number of flood risk assessments across the country as the need to know about the potential of flooding grows. The government and councils are rightly putting pressure on developers to make sure houses are being built in areas that are not likely to flood or are capable of dealing with flood water. Rain gardens are just one of many measures both the government and individuals should be thinking about. Not only do they look wonderful but hey provide a service to homes and those around them. Larger rain gardens like those planned for Folkestone should be employed in a number of areas to help protect surrounding properties.

Flooding

Of course, the reasons there is even a need for flood protection are many but most agree it is related to climate change. So as well and looking at mitigation devices like rain gardens it is important everyone continues to try to reduce their carbon footprint to stop things getting any worse over the coming decades.

Ade HolderAde Holder was once primarily a motoring writer but with a background in Zoology and Environmental Science as well as a deep passion for all things living and growing he found himself writing on a much broader range of topics. As well as writing on various topics Ade has also been called to speak on BBC radio on a number of topics. In his spare time he can often be found covered in mud on a mountain bike somewhere on the South Downs.

Gardening, How To, Liam, Planting, Trees

Planting a tree is a decision made with many, many years in mind. With that being said it is essential to give your young tree the best possible start so it can grow to its full potential. With this guide we will show you how to plant a containerised tree.

 

A benefit you get with a containerised plant over a bare root one is that you can plant it at any point in the year. As long as your soil isn’t frozen or waterlogged your plant should be able to establish itself regardless of the season.

1. Before taking the tree out of its pot give it a good water. If you are planting the tree during spring or summer then it is essential to make sure it is well watered as the tree is yet to establish itself fully.

2. When picking a site for your tree, ideally you will want somewhere which is going to receive full sunlight and will be sheltered from harsh, drying winds. Make sure you pick a spot where the roots will have a chance to grow and spread out. If training against a wall then leave at least 1ft of space from the base of the plant.

3. Dig a hole with a diameter roughly 3x the size of the root ball and with the same depth. If planted too deep the lower trunk of the tree may become susceptible to disease; the graft-point should be just above the ground.

A square hole allows for the greatest root penetration and growth, especially for containerised plants whose roots are used to growing around in a circle. Loosen up the soil at the bottom of the hole with a fork and also the sides if they appear compact.

4. Take the soil you have dug and mix in compost so that it is three parts original soil, one part compost. You can add some further compost to the bottom of the hole and then fill in with your soil. There is no need at this point to apply a fertiliser, you can however sprinkle around the roots with mycorrhizal fungi (Rootgrow) to stimulate root-growth.

5. Place your tree in the hole and the fill in with your soil. Every now and then gentle heel in so that the soil is touching the roots. Air circulation is essential so don’t compact the soil too much.

6. You can plant a stake by the side of the rootball to give the tree some additional support if required. For a containerised tree we recommend two stakes as they require additional support. If planted in a sheltered site it may not be required and we advise not using a stake to improve the tree’s strength and flexibility. See our guide to staking trees.

7. After this you can form a bowl with the soil around the tree and fill with water. This will ensure the water doesn’t spill off and go directly to the roots. In the first several years it is important to look after and regularly water your young tree especially through periods of extended heat. Once the roots have grown out and the tree has established itself it will require less maintenance.

With this you have done your part in ensuring a long and happy life for your tree. You can also apply a mulch around the base to help it retain moisture, protect the roots and fend off weeds and disease.

Liam at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Dakota Murphey, Gardening Year, How To

self sufficient gardening

Homesteading is a growing trend in the UK, as rising energy prices and a changing climate encourage families to rethink their way of life.

For some, becoming more self-sufficient is about saving money and living within their means. Others relish the opportunity to get back in touch with nature, and transform practical skills and hobbies into a sustainable lifestyle. Self-reliance can also help environmentally-conscious families to reduce their carbon footprint, and provide endless hands-on lessons for children of all ages.

Whatever your reasons for becoming more self-sufficient, and regardless of how much space or experience you have, these six steps will help you on your way.

1. Preparing your Home

Before embarking on your journey to self-sufficiency, make sure that your home is fit for the ride. Getting a professional EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) for your home will give you an indication of how well-insulated it is, and whether there are any immediate steps you can take to improve its condition. Double or triple glazing will prevent substantial heat loss, and upgrading the insulation in your walls, floors and roofs will go a long way to maximising the efficiency of your home.

Use technology to your advantage. Replace traditional bulbs with LEDs throughout your home, and invest in smart plugs and timers so you can easily control your electronics when they’re not in use.

2. Generating Energy

The biggest leap to becoming self-sufficient is managing your own energy supply. The up-front costs of off-grid equipment are usually quite significant, but considering you can recoup your costs within around 8 years, it can be worthwhile if you’re in it for the long run.

Solar panels and wind turbines both offer clean and inexpensive energy, with start-up costs setting you back between £3,000 to £8,000. While both systems will work fine in the UK, you will need to make a much larger investment before you can rely on them as your sole energy generator. Instead, consider them a boost to your mains supply, helping to lower your costs and reduce your strain on the system.

solar panels

Complement your electricity supply with a heating fuel you can control, like wood or oil. Growing trees for biofuel will provide you for a self-sustaining energy source for life, but isn’t practical for every homestead. Oil does leave you dependent on a supplier, but you will have a reliable fuel to fall back on throughout the year, and can easily monitor and control your consumption. The safest way to install an oil tank is to speak to a professional installer, like SG Tanks, who can help you choose the best storage options for your needs.

3. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

It’s a familiar adage, and for good reason. Habitually reducing, reusing and recycling the things you use will reap benefits for your home, wallets and the planet.

When you’re shopping, try to be more conscious of buying products with less packaging, resisting the urge to over-purchase and limiting the amount of disposable goods you choose. Before you throw something in the bin, consider whether it could be donated or sold instead. Or perhaps it could simply be washed and reused for something else? Worn out garments make great cleaning rags, and most non-recyclable food packaging can be used as storage containers. All biodegradable waste should go into a compost bin or heap, ready to use for fertiliser on your plants. The goal is to let as little go to landfill as possible, and make the items you buy (new or second-hand) work harder for your home.

recycle symbol

4. Growing Your Own

The easiest step in the direction of self-sufficiency is to start growing your own produce. You don’t need a lot of space or skill to get started, and the British climate is perfect for cultivating a multitude of fruits and veggies to supplement your shop-bought food.

Tomatoes, peas and strawberries are the perfect place to start, and as your thumbs get greener you can move on to more challenging crops. Brush up on your veggie seasons to make sure your supplies are steady all year round, and calculate how much room each plant will need. Herbs can be kept on a windowsill and strawberries in pots on the balcony, but you’ll need a sizeable patch of gardens to grow potatoes.

When your harvest gets larger than you can eat, start preserving them into jams and chutneys, selling them or trading them with friends and neighbours.

home grown vegetables

5. Talk to the Animals

Just like flora, choosing which fauna to cultivate will depend on your existing skills and how much space you have to rear and graze them. The key to successfully keeping animals is to start small, and build up the variety as your mastery develops.

Chickens are a good place to start, and can provide both eggs and meat with relatively little maintenance. If you don’t have quite enough room for a brood, quails are a smaller alternative. Similarly, a few cows can keep you stocked with milk and cheese, but so will goats if your garden is small.

Whichever animals you choose, make sure they are kept safe from free-roaming predators. Coops, fencing and a guard dog will be a worthwhile investment.

6. Helping Yourself

The last step is perhaps the most important, which is learning the practical skills to keep your home ticking over. Most people can manage a bit of flatpack furniture and turning the oven on, but for a truly self-sufficient lifestyle, you’ll need to learn a lot more.

First and foremost, is understanding how to look after your crops and animals, if you choose to farm any. Next, you should be able to manage your energy supply and make any basic repairs that the system requires – you don’t want to be learning this last minute when your boiler breaks or fireplace clogs up. Other incredibly useful skills include first aid, sewing techniques, and learning to cook nutritious meals using your own harvests. Any practical hobbies you already have can certainly be used to your advantage in sustainable living, and what better way to enjoy them?

There is no quick and easy route to self-sufficiency. It takes a lot of patience, and practice, and you will question your decisions more than once along the way! Just remember your reasons for doing it, and how satisfying it will be when you finally reap the rewards for your efforts.

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.

How To, Liam, Planting, Plants

Pruning is essential to a productive and healthy fruit bush. For that reason we have created this step-by-step guide on how to prune a fruit bush which looks at those with a bushy and sucker/cane growing habit.

Pruning a Bushy… Bush

Fruit bushes witha bushy growing habit are all those species with branches spreading from one main trunk usually close to the ground level. These include most varieties such as blueberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants etc.

Bushy fruit bushes produce the most fruit on 2-3 year old branches and lose their vigour after that third year. Pruning therefore is the art of facilitating a constant cycle of rejuvenation keeping the plant young, healthy and heavy with fruit.

  • Pruning should be carried out in the winter while the bush is still dormant. I would advise waiting until early spring as the buds begin to develop. This will give you a clearer indication of which branches are worth keeping. Fruit buds will be more round and fat than their thinner vegetative counterparts.
  • In the first two years pruning is a light exercise, simply ridding the plant of anything dead, dying or diseased – the three D’s. As always when dealing with anything diseased you need to sterilise your pruning equipment and burn any of the affected branches or leaves after they have been pruned out to prevent the spread of contamination.
Pruning A Bush Diagram
Before and After Pruning a Bush: The Desired Shape
  • As the bush has established itself pruning becomes a practice of training and increasing productivity. After removing the three d’s you want to maintain a good evenly spaced shape with the branches growing as horizontally as possible as these will be the branches capable of supplying the most fruit.
  •  As the bush grows older pruning should include cutting out any of the older more woody branches.
  • With this done you leave only the younger, more vigorous branches which crop the heaviest. This is better for fruit production and will help prevent the bush exhausting itself and falling into a biennial harvest.
  • Now you will want to prune out any crossing branches or areas of congestion. You need to open the bush up to sunlight and good airflow as to prevent the spread of pests and disease.  Suckers and low-hanging branches are more of an issue with a fruit bush.
  • If it appears as if the fruit will be resting on the floor cut out that branch. This helps prevent disease and pests from destroying your crop.

Pruning a Sucker Bush

Some bushes, mainly Raspberries and Blackberries, grow in a sucker fashion meaning that they grow new stems from the base of the plant year on year as opposed to having a truck or main branch. Both also only grow fruit on one year old canes and so it is essential to annually prune these bushes maintaining this cycle of rejuvenation.

Again this process should be carried out in late winter or early spring. More recently horticulturalists have realised that the old canes send carbohydrates back to the roots which can boost the plant’s vitality and therefore it may be worth waiting until spring time before you prune them out.

A Blackberry Bush After Its Winter Pruning
  • First of all tend to the 3 D’s.
  • Every year you need to monitor and remove those canes which have produced fruit during the harvest season. You can cut these out right at the base but leave a little length so the cut does not become contaminated from the soil and pests.
  • Lastly remove any weak or spindly looking branches. These won’t be able to bear much fruit and will simply limit air-flow and sunlight reaching the more productive canes.
  • You can now tie in these main canes to their support and expect a bumper crop as summer comes around!

Hopefully with this guide we have given you all the information on how to prune a fruit bush. As always check the specific requirement for your plant to ensure a healthy life and a bumper crop!

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